Polar Biology

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 266–276 | Cite as

Lactation costs in southern elephant seals at King George Island, South Shetland Islands

  • A. R. CarliniEmail author
  • M. E. I. Márquez
  • H. Panarello
  • S. Ramdohr
  • G. A. Daneri
  • H. Bornemann
  • J. Plötz
Original Paper


Labelled-water methodology was used to quantify energy costs and energy transfer efficiency in 18 mother-pup pairs of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) during lactation. During the lactation period, mothers lost a mean mass of 227±47 kg. Mass loss included 22% of the protein, 60% of the fat, and 51% of the energy in the mother’s body upon arrival. Total body-energy reserves at parturition explained 69% of the variation in the total lactation costs and 50% of the variation in the pup’s body energy at weaning. On average, pups retained 48% of the mass, 49% of protein, 53% of fat and 51% of energy lost by their mothers. Greater, fatter females showed a decrease in the efficiency of energy and fat transfer and, at the same time, an increase in the efficiency of protein transfer. This may be due to an increased use of protein as metabolic fuel, as fat demands for milk production increase. There was no evidence that greater total lactation costs influence the ability of mothers to produce a pup in the next breeding season.


Lactation Period Elephant Seal Southern Elephant Seal Northern Elephant Seal Stranger Point 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We wish to thank S. Poljak, R. Conde, M. Alcalde, R. Montiel and G. Moreira for field assistance, and S. Valencio, J.L. Nogueira and A. Corbalán for technical assistance. We thank Nucleoeléctrica Argentina S.A. (Centrales Nucleares Atucha I y II), who provided the D2O to perform this study, and Laboratory Holliday-Scott S.A. for providing some of the ketamine used in immobilisation of animals. Our procedures conform to the Code of Ethics of Animal Experimentation in Antarctica. The permit for this work was granted by the Dirección Nacional del Antártico (Environmental Office), Argentina. The authors are grateful for the valued comments and suggestions of two anonymous referees, which improved the paper.


  1. Adams SH, Costa DP (1993) Water conservation and protein metabolism in northern elephant seal pups during the post-weaning fast. J Comp Physiol B 163:367–373PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnbom T, Fedak M, Boyd IL, McConnel BJ (1993) Variation in weaning mass of pups in relation to maternal mass, postweaning fast duration, and weaned pup behaviour in southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) at South Georgia. Can J Zool 71:1772–1781Google Scholar
  3. Arnbom T, Fedak M, Boyd IL (1997) Factors affecting maternal expenditure in southern elephant seals during lactation. Ecology 78:471–483Google Scholar
  4. Bowen WD, Ellis SL, Iverson SJ, Boness DJ (2001a) Maternal effects on offspring growth rate and weaning mass in harbour seals. Can J Zool 79:1088–1101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowen WD, Iverson SJ, Boness DJ, Oftedal OT (2001b) Foraging effort, food intake and lactation performance depend on maternal mass in a small phocid seal. Funct Ecol 15:325–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burton HR, Arnbom T, Boyd IL, Bester M, Vergani D, Wilkinson I (1997) Significant differences in weaning mass of southern elephant seals from five sub-Antarctic islands in relation to population declines. In: Battaglia B, Valencia J, Walton DWH (eds) Antarctic communities: species, structure and survival. University Press, pp 335–338Google Scholar
  7. Campagna C, Le Boeuf BJ, Lewis M, Bisioli C (1992) Equal investment in male and female offpring in southern elephant seals. J Zool Lond 226:551–561Google Scholar
  8. Carlini AR, Márquez MEI, Soave G, Vergani DF, Ronayne de Ferrer PA (1994) Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina: composition of milk during lactation. Polar Biol 14:37–42Google Scholar
  9. Carlini AR, Daneri GA, Márquez MEI, Soave G, Poljak S (1997) Mass transfer from mothers to pups and mass recovery during the post-breeding foraging period in southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) at King George Island. Polar Biol 18:305–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carlini AR, Márquez MEI, Daneri GA, Poljak S (1999) Mass changes during their annual cycle in females of southern elephant seals at King George Island. Polar Biol 21:234–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carlini AR, Panarello HO, Márquez MEI, Daneri GA, Soave G (2000) Energy gain during lactation and subsequent energy loss by the weaned pup in the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). Polar Biol 23:437–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cherel Y, Robin J, Heitz A, Calgari C, Le Maho Y (1992) Relationships between lipid availability and protein utilisation during prolonged fasting. J Comp Physiol B 162:305–313PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Clutton-Brock TH (1984) Reproductive effort and terminal investment in iteroparous animals. Am Nat 123:212–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coleman ML, Shepherd TJ, Durham JJ, Rouse JB, Moore GR (1982) A rapid and precise technique for reduction of water with zinc for hydrogen isotope analyses. Anal Chem 54:993Google Scholar
  15. Costa DP (1987) Isotopic methods for quantifying material and energy intake of free-ranging marine mammals. In: Huntley AC, Costa DP, Worthy GA, Castellini MA (eds) Approaches to marine mammal energetics. Allen, Lawrence, Kan, pp 43–66Google Scholar
  16. Costa DP (1991) Reproductive and foraging energetics of pinnipeds: implications for life history patterns. In: Renouf D (ed) The behaviour of pinnipeds. Chapman & Hall, London, pp 300–334Google Scholar
  17. Costa DP (1993) The relationship between reproductive and foraging energetics and the evolution of the Pinnipedia. In: Boyd IL (ed) Marine mammals: advances in behavioural and population biology. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London, vol 66. Clarendon, Oxford, pp 293–314Google Scholar
  18. Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ, Ortiz CL, Huntley AC (1986) The energetics of lactation in the northern elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris. J Zool Lond 209:21–33Google Scholar
  19. Crocker DE, Webb PM, Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ (1998) Protein catabolism and renal function in lactating northern elephant seals. Physiol Zool 71:485–491PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Crocker DE, Williams JD, Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ (2001) Maternal traits and reproductive effort in northern elephant seals. Ecology 82:3541–3555Google Scholar
  21. Deutsch CJ, Crocker DE, Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ (1994) Sex- and age-related variation in reproductive effort of northern elephant seals. In: Le Boeuf BJ, Laws RM (eds) Elephant seals. Population ecology, behavior and physiology. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 169–210Google Scholar
  22. Fedak AM, Anderson SS (1982) The energetics of lactation: accurate measurements from a large wild mammal, the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). J Zool Lond 198:473–479Google Scholar
  23. Fedak AM, Arnbom TA, McConnell BJ, Chambers C, Boyd IL, Harwood J, McCann TS (1994) Expenditure, investment, and acquisition of energy in southern elephant seals. In: Le Boeuf BJ, Laws RM (eds) Elephant seals. Population ecology, behavior and physiology. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 354–373Google Scholar
  24. Fedak AM, Arnbom TA, Boyd IL (1996) The relationship between the size of southern elephant seal mothers, the growth of their pups, and the use of maternal energy, fat, and protein during lactation. Physiol Zool 69:887–911Google Scholar
  25. Georges JY, Groscolas R, Guinet C, Robin JP (2001) Milking strategy in subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis breeding on Amsterdam Island: evidence from changes in milk composition. Physiol Biochem Zool 74:548–559CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Hall A, McConnell B, Barker RJ (2001) Factors affecting first year survival in grey seals and their implications for life history strategy. J Anim Ecol 70:138–149Google Scholar
  27. Hindell MA, Bryden MM, Burton HB (1994) Early growth and milk composition in southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina). Aust J Zool 42:723–732Google Scholar
  28. Iverson SJ, Bowen WD, Boness DJ, Oftedal OT (1993) The effect of maternal size and milk output on growth in grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). Physiol Zool 66:61–88Google Scholar
  29. Kretzmann MB, Costa DP, Le Boeuf BJ (1993) Maternal energy investment in elephant seal pups: evidence for sexual equality? Am Nat 141:466–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Le Boeuf BJ, Condit R, Reiter J (1989) Parental investment and the secondary sex ratio in northern elephant seals. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 25:109–117Google Scholar
  31. Le Boeuf BJ, Morris P, Reiter J (1994) Juvenile survivorship of northern elephant seals. In: Le Boeuf BJ, Laws RM (eds) Elephant seals. Population ecology, behavior and physiology. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 121–136Google Scholar
  32. Lowell BL, Goodman MN (1987) Protein sparing in skeletal muscle during prolonged starvation: dependence on lipid fuel availability. Diabetes 36:14–19PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Maynard-Smith J (1980) A new theory of sexual investment. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 7:247–251Google Scholar
  34. McCann TS, Fedak MA, Harwood J (1989) Parental investment in southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 25:81–87Google Scholar
  35. McMahon CR, Burton HR, Bester MN (2000) Weaning mass and future survival of juvenile southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, at Macquarie Island. Antarct Sci 12:149–153Google Scholar
  36. Nagy KA, Costa DP (1980) Water flux in animals: analysis of potential errors in the tritiated water method. Am J Physiol 238 R:454–465Google Scholar
  37. Reilly J, Fedak MA (1990) Measurement of the body composition of living gray seals by hydrogen isotope dilution. J Appl Physiol 69:885–891Google Scholar
  38. Schoeller DA, Santen E van, Peterson DW, Dietz W, Jaspan J, Kein PD (1980) Total body water measurement in humans with O18 and H2 labeled water. Am J Clin Nutr 33:2686–2693PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Tedman R, Green B (1987) Water and sodium fluxes and lactational energetics in suckling pups of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii). J Zool Lond 212:29–42Google Scholar
  40. Trivers RL, Willard DE (1973) Natural selection of parental ability to vary sex ratios of offspring. Science 179:90–92PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Wilkinson IS, Aarde JR van (2001) Investment in sons and daughters by southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, at Marion Island. Mar Mammal Sci 17:873–887Google Scholar
  42. Worthy GAJ, Lavigne M (1987) Mass loss, metabolic rate, and energy utilization by harp and grey seals during the postweaning fast. Physiol Zool 60:352–364Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. R. Carlini
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. E. I. Márquez
    • 1
  • H. Panarello
    • 2
  • S. Ramdohr
    • 3
  • G. A. Daneri
    • 4
  • H. Bornemann
    • 3
  • J. Plötz
    • 3
  1. 1.Depto. de Ciencias BiológicasInstituto Antártico ArgentinoBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Instituto de Geocronología y Geología Isotópica (INGEIS), Pabellón INGEISCiudad UniversitariaBuenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar-und MeeresforschungBremerhavenGermany
  4. 4.Depto. de MamíferosMuseo Argentino de Cs. Naturales “B. Rivadavia”Buenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations